Archive for the ‘Green Patents’ category

In Hybrid Vehicle Suit Paice Severs Lexus Nexus

August 12th, 2009

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In the hybrid vehicle patent war between hybrid technology company Paice LLC (Paice) and Toyota Motor Corp. (Toyota), Paice has withdrawn from one front after the parties reached a very limited truce.

Specifically, Paice agreed to a covenant not to assert U.S. Patent No. 5,343,970 (’970 patent) against the Lexus GS450h and the Lexus LS600h and recently filed a Second Amended Complaint (paice-amended-complaint.pdf) in a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas dropping allegations that the two Lexus models infringe the ’970 patent.

The suit, which Paice originally filed in July of 2007, now alleges that the Toyota Camry hybrid infringes the ’970 patent and that the second generation Prius, the Highlander SUV, the Lexus RX400h SUV, the Camry hybrid and the two other Lexus models infringe the ’970 patent as well as U.S. Patent Nos. 7,104,347 and 7,237,634.

The ’970 patent is directed to a hybrid drive train that uses a microprocessor (48) and a controllable torque transfer unit (28) that accepts torque input from both an internal combustion engine (40) and an electric motor (20). 

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The microprocessor (48) controls the amount of torque provided by the internal combustion engine (40) and the electric motor (20) by locking or releasing a bevel gear assembly (not shown) and holding torque inputs constant.

Paice and Toyota have an ongoing history of litigation over Paice’s hybrid vehicle patents.  In the fall of 2007, the Federal Circuit affirmed a jury verdict that the Prius, Highlander and Lexus SUV infringed two claims of the ’970 patent under the doctrine of equivalents. 

In that case Paice was awarded about $4.3 million in past damages and an ongoing royalty of $98 per infringing vehicle soldPaice later sued Toyota again, asserting that the Highlander and Lexus SUV infringed U.S. Patent No. 7,392,871.

 

ITC Ends Rothschild LED Patent Infringement Investigation Against Xiamen

August 8th, 2009

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In a previous post, I wrote about the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) investigation of six companies based in China and Taiwan, prompted by a complaint by retired Columbia University Professor and LED innovator Gertrude Neumark Rothschild.  In the complaint, Rothschild asserted infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,252,499 (’499 patent) relating to LED manufacturing methods.

The Notice of Investigation named Chi Mei Lighting Technology Corp., Tekcore Co. Ltd., Toyolite Technologies Corp., Tyntek Corp., Visual Photonics Epitaxy Co. and Xiamen Sanan Optoelectronics Technology (“Xiamen”).

The ITC recently let the investigation against Xiamen come to end when it ruled that it would not review the decision of an adminstrative law judge (ALJ) to end the investigation (xiamen_order.pdf).   The ALJ’s decision followed Xiamen’s request to terminate the investigation in view of a proposed consent order.

In the consent order, Xiamen, without admitting infringement or validity of the ’499 patent, agreed not to import LED and laser diode chips that allegedly infringe the ’499 patent.  The consent order also provided that it would be nullified if the ’499 patent were to be held invalid or unenforceable in a final decision by any administrative or judicial body.

The ’499 patent is directed to methods of making LEDs capable of emitting short wavelength (green or blue) light.  The patent addresses the problem of “doping” wide band gap semiconductor materials, an essential step in creating adequate conductance for the materials to function as LEDs.  Doping means adding impurities to a semiconductor to increase the number of free charge carriers.

Rothschild has aggressively asserted the ’499 patent and U.S. Patent No. 4,904,618 in recent years.  Last year Rothschild filed a complaint in the ITC naming more than 25 respondents, including electronics giants Hitachi, LG, Matsushita, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.  At least eight companies have taken licenses to her patents.

ExxonMobil Partners with Synthetic Genomics to Develop Algal Biofuels

August 6th, 2009

Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI) is a San Diego biotech company that develops biofuels using genetic engineering and other genomic and microbiological techniques.

Last month SGI announced that it has entered a multi-year research and development agreement with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) to develop next generation biofuels using photosynthetic algae. According to SGI’s press release, total funding for R & D and milestone payments could total more than $300 million. 

SGI will use its proprietary tools and technologies in genomics, metagenomics, synthetic genomics and genome engineering to develop superior strains of algae for commercial scale production of biofuels.  SGI owns several pending patent applications relating to these tools and technologies. 

U.S. Application No. 2007/0264688 (’688 application) is entitled “Synthetic genomes” and is directed to methods of constructing synthetic genomes and introducing them into vesicles (cells or synthetic membrane-bound “cells”). 

The ’688 application describes generating small nucleic acid fragments, assembling them into cassettes, cloning the cassettes, assembling the cassettes into a genome, and transferring the synthetic genome into a biochemical system.  The end products produced by the biochemical systems have various applications such as energy sources (e.g., hydrogen or ethanol), therapeutics and industrial polymers.

According to the ’688 application, selection and construction of synthetic genome sequences (as opposed to conventional genetic engineering techniques) allows for easier manipulation of genetic sequences and construction of novel organisms and biological systems.

U.S. Application No. 2007/0269862 (’862 application) is directed to methods for installing a genome into a cell or cell-like system.  The genome may comprise supercoiled nucleic acid molecules (102) with scaffolding proteins (104).  The nucleic acids may also have ribosomes (106).

The supercoiled nucleic acid molecules (102) may be accompanied by small molecules (108) and single stranded nucleic acid molecules (110).  The genomes are introduced into a membrane bound aqueous volume (112) such as a lipid vesicle.

Claim 1 of the ’862 application is rather broad:

1.  A method for making a synthetic cell, the method comprising:

obtaining a genome that is not within a cell; and

introducing the genome into a cell or cell-like system.

U.S. Application No. 2009/0176280 is directed to a method for isothermal amplification of small amounts of DNA or cell-free cloning of the DNA.

Other SGI pending applications include U.S. Application Pub. No. 2007/0037196 and U.S. Application Pub. No. 2007/0037197 (relating to in vitro methods for joining two double-stranded DNA molecules) and U.S. Application No. 2007/0122826 (relating to a minimal essential gene set that codes for a free-living organism).

One theme that runs throughout SGI’s portfolio of patent applications is impatience with the limits of existing genetic engineering methods and a desire for better techniques to shatter those limits, which SGI may have found in its synthetic genome technology.  This “Description of the Related Art” from the ’688 application captures that sentiment:

Conventional genetic engineering techniques are limited to allowing manipulation of existing sequences.  It would thus be desirable to have the ability to implement dramatic alterations and arrangements of genetic content, beyond that made possible by conventional techniques.  Consequently, there is a need for synthetic genomes.

Green Patent Acquisitions: Rentech Buys SilvaGas Gasification Technologies

August 4th, 2009

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Rentech, Inc. (Rentech) is a Los Angeles company that provides clean energy solutions including biomass gasification technology and processes for converting synthetic gas (syngas) into synthetic jet fuel and diesel fuels.

Last month Rentech announced that it had completed the acquisition of Atlanta-based SilvaGas Corporation (SilvaGas) and SilvaGas’s commercial-scale biomass gasification technology, which converts urban waste feedstocks into syngas.

According to the press release, the acquisition will enable Rentech to offer integrated packages for renewable fuels and power production by combining the SilvaGas gasification technology with Rentech’s syngas conversion, conditioning and cleanup technology.

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The SilvaGas patent portfolio includes several patents and pending applications relating to high-throughput gasifier technology.  The original SilvaGas process was protected by U.S. Patent No. 4,828,581 (’581 patent), entitled “Low input gas velocity high throughput biomass gasifier”.  The ’581 patent expired in 2006.

The ’581 patent describes a process of rapidly heating biomass with hot sand using a reactor that has a fluid bed of sand.  According to the ’581 patent:

This invention comprises the unexpected discovery that it is possible to gasify biomass at very high wood throughputs but in an entrained gasifier operating at low inlet gas velocities.

Entrained gasifiers perform gasification reactions in a cloud of fine particles, which can be solids, atomized liquid fuels or fuel slurries.

Another key SilvaGas patent is U.S. Patent No. 6,613,111 (’111 patent), entitled “Small scale high throughput biomass gasification system and method”.  The ’111 patent is directed to a high-throughput combination gasifier and combustor wherein the gasifier is concentrically housed within the combustor. 

The gasifier system includes a gasifier (102) and a combustor (118).  The combustor (118) acts as a source of heat to drive the gasification reactions in the gasifier (102).  The gasifier (102) and combustor (118) transfer heat and materials to each other via circulation of a particulate inert material, such as sand, which is fluidized by gas flowing through the material. 

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A fluidizing gas inlet (110) provides a flow of gas into the gasifier (102), and gas exits the gasifier at exit (112), flows through a separator (114), and exits as product gas through product gas exit (116).  Biomass feedstock is introduced through the entry opening (106), and the particulate material travels from the combustor (118) into the gasifier (102) through a recirculation opening (108).

According to the ’111 patent, the arrangement of the gasifier (102) concentrically within the combustor (102) minimizes heat loss from the surface of the gasifier and improves the efficiency of the system.  This helps to make the patented system suitable for small scale gasification having a relatively low feedstock input rate.

Most of the other SilvaGas patents and applications are directed to improvements or variations of these core technologies, including U.S. Patent No. 6,808,543 (methods for reducing ash agglomeration, reducing erosion and facilitating sand flow), U.S. Patent No. 6,680,137 (an energy system connecting a gasifier and a combustor to a fuel cell) and U.S. Application Pub. No. 2008/0022592 (a more efficient gasification system having certain diameter and height specs).

Kruse Sues GM in Third Suit Over Diesel Engine Patents

August 2nd, 2009

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Previously, I wrote about Kruse Technology Partnership’s (“Kruse”) patent infringement suits against Isuzu and DMAX, Ltd. (“DMAX”), an Ohio diesel engine manufacturer formed as a joint venture between General Motors (GM) and Isuzu (see the DMAX post here and the Isuzu post here).  

In those cases, Kruse alleges that DMAX’s Duramax engines infringe three related Kruse patents:  U.S. Patent Nos. 5,265,562 (“’562 patent”), 6,058,904 (“’904 patent”) and 6,405,704 (“’704 patent”).

Last month Kruse filed a third lawsuit, rounding out the trio of infringement actions by targeting GM.  The complaint (kruse-v-gm-complaint.pdf), filed in federal court in Los Angeles, asserts the same patents and alleges that GM’s diesel engines infringe the patents.

The asserted patents are directed to Kruse’s “Limited Temperature Cycle” technology, which reduces combustion temperature, boosts thermal efficiency and reduces certain chemical emissions by diesel engines by injecting fuel in multiple increments.   

The patents describe an engine (10) comprising a block (12), a cylinder head (14) and a cylinder (16) having a piston (18).  Fuel is supplied to the engine (10) by a fuel injection system (36).  The engine (10) also includes an air induction system (26) having an air intake valve (28) in the cylinder head (14).

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The process maintains a proper fuel/air mix in the engine to reduce the temperature and the work of compression.  According to the ’904 patent, the fuel injection system (36) precisely regulates this fuel/air mixture for combustion and exhaust emission control.

The complaint requests that the court issue a permanent injunction against GM and award Kruse treble damages for willful infringement.

Flexibility = Reliability: Nordic Windpower’s Teetering Turbine

July 29th, 2009

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Nordic Windpower (Nordic) is a Berkeley, California company that designs, manufactures and sells utility-scale wind turbines. 

Earlier this month Nordic announced that it had received a $16 million loan guarantee offer from the U.S. Department of Energy.  Nordic said it will use the government funds to expand its Idaho assembly plant.

Nordic’s turbines have a two-blade design rather than the more traditional three-blade rotor common in utility-scale wind.

A two-blade design reduces the cost associated with providing blades and simplifies assembly but also requires a different hub design because a two-blade turbine is less balanced and more prone to fatigue from that unbalance than the conventional three-blade turbine.

Teeter hubs, which are hinged to the turbine shaft, were developed for two-blade turbines, but they don’t hold up well in extreme wind conditions.

Nordic has developed flexible teeter hub technology so the rotor blades can flex at the hub to dissipate high winds before they can reach or damage the turbine drive train.  International Pub. No. WO 02/079647 (’647 Application) describes and claims Nordic’s flexible teeter hub assembly. 

The ’647 Application is directed to a teeter hub (2) that allows some flexing while also better absorbing extreme torque.  Blades (1) are connected to the hub (2), and the hub is connected to the turbine shaft (3). 

The reaction arm (15) extends all they way through the hub (2) from the periphery adjacent the turbine shaft (3) to the opposite side of the hub.  The length of the reaction arm (15) allows the hub assembly to better absorb extreme torque caused by high winds.

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The bearing (12), the reaction arm (15) and the spring elements (13) together form a hinge assembly.  When high winds blow, the hinge assembly allows the hub (2) to pivot slightly while the springs (13) counteract the teeter movement. 

The torque is absorbed with an even distribution on the bearing (12) and the springs (13) thus minimizing damage to the turbine.

Swift Overcomes Obviousness Rejections to Obtain Small Wind Turbine Patent

July 19th, 2009

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In a previous post, I wrote about the new Swift wind turbine, developed by Scottish energy products and solutions company Renewable Devices Swift Turbines Ltd. (RDST) for use in densely populated areas.  Last month RDST obtained a patent for its turbine:  U.S. Patent No. 7,550,864 issued June 23, 2009.

RDST’s design overcomes the problem of wind turbine noise by using a circular diffuser (21) that rings the turbine blades.  In operation, when the airflow reaches the ends of the blades, it contacts the diffuser and proceeds in a circumferential path instead of flowing off the ends of blades.

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The Swift turbine also has a furling device (50) with tailfins (53, 54).  When the airflow exceeds a certain speed, the furling device rotates the rotor to maintain the direction of the airflow in line with the turbine’s rotational axis.  In excessively high winds, the turbine rotor can be rotated out of the airflow altogether.  These measures reduce the vibrations of the turbine assembly components. 

Finally, the Swift turbine has a mounting structure that includes a rubber core to absorb vibrations before they spread upward to the moving parts of the turbine assembly.

RDST overcame rejections by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that its patent claims were obvious over two prior art patents by using a host of arguments, including some of the so-called “secondary considerations” of non-obviousness.

Independent claim 1, as amended during prosecution (and as ultimately issued) recited:

A rotor for a roof-mounted wind turbine comprising a plurality of radial blades and a ring-shaped diffuser connected to the outer tips of the blades, wherein the diffuser is an aerofoil diffuser and is configured such that it inhibits the partly axial and partly radial airflow from the blades, said airflow becoming circumferential when it contacts the aerofoil diffuser, thereby reducing acoustic emissions.

Thus, the claimed turbine rotor contained the following mechanical components:  a rotor, a plurality of blades, and a ring-shaped diffuser, wherein the diffuser is an aerofoil diffuser.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) viewed this iteration of claim 1 as a combination of known elements and rejected the claim as obvious over two prior art patents, one of which disclosed a rotor, blades and a diffuser and another that taught an aerfoil diffuser.  According to the patent examiner, it would have been obvious to combine the aerofoil diffuser of reference two with the rotor blades and diffuser of reference one to achieve a reduced noise level.

RDST successfully overcame this rejection by pointing out deficiencies in the cited prior art and by using a host of non-obviousness arguments.  For instance, RDST argued that the prior art taught away form attaching a large mass to the ends of rotor blades, that the degree of noise reduction was an unexpected result and that competing designs had failed to achieve comparable noise reduction.

Finally, to tie it all together for the patent examiner, RDST submitted audiovisual evidence of the its quiet turbine in action.

Potter Drilling’s Geothermal Spallation Innovation

July 15th, 2009

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Potter Drilling, LLC (Potter) is a Redwood City, California-based company that develops drilling technology for various applications, including geothermal energy production.

Potter specializes in novel drilling systems that don’t require contact between the drill assembly and the rock in order to make holes in the geological formation.  Specifically, the company’s key innovations involve a process called spallation, which uses high intensity fluid streams to fracture rock surfaces. 

A common problem that arises during deep drilling is that non-uniform stresses are created around the borehole, which cause the rock around the hole to break out; this can make a circular hole become non-circular.  Pieces of rock can fall into the hole, causing the drill or casing to get stuck.  This phenomenon is aptly named ”breakout.”

Potter’s drilling processes take a proactive approach to this problem by intentionally creating non-circular boreholes to avoid inadvertent and uncontrolled breakout.

In addition, Potter developed a technology to produce non-circular boreholes for ground source heat pump (GSHP) applications where it is desirable to separate the tube carrying water down the hole from the tube carrying water back up in order to reduce heat exchange between the different temperature streams. 

Potter owns U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2008/0093125 (’125 application), entitled “Method and system for forming a non-circular borehole”, which describes some of the company’s drilling technologies for creating shaped boreholes.  

One of those is particle drilling for GSHP applications, which uses particles in an air stream to cut the rock.  This technology is being developed by a spinoff company called Ground Source Geothermal.

I talked to Dr. Tom Wideman, Potter’s CTO, who told me (no pun intended I think) that the company’s “most groundbreaking” technology is hydrothermal spallation.

Hydrothermal spallation uses hot water to cut through rock.  According to the company’s web site, hydrothermal spallation was invented and patented by Potter’s co-founder Robert Potter and Jefferson Tester of MIT. 

Potter is the exclusive licensee of U.S. Patent No. 5,771,984 (’984 patent), which is owned by MIT and directed to apparatus and methods of excavation by hydrothermal drilling. 

The ’984 patent covers a jet housing (602) rotatably mounted to a flow pipe assembly support (604).  The jet housing (602) contains two or more combustion chambers (610).  

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Jet housing (602) contains passageways (614) for cooling water, passageways (616) for the fuel and passageways (618) for the combustion air.  It also has a central conduit (620) for the escaping combustion gases and returning flakes of rock. 

The hot fluid products of thermal combustion are jetted downward onto the rock though nozzles (612) located near the outer circumference of the bottom of the drilling apparatus.

This Clean Technica piece calls Potter’s hydrothermal spallation drill the “Holy Grail” of geothermal because of the promise that it can drill faster, deeper and cheaper than prior drilling systems. 

Potter is continuing its spallation innovation and patenting.  Wideman described Potter as an “IP-rich company” and told me the company has multiple recently-filed patent applications in the pipeline.

Eamex’s Polymer Capacitor to Compete with Lithium Ion Batteries?

July 9th, 2009

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Eamex Corp. (Eamex) is a Japanese company that has developed a high energy density capacitor using a proprietary polymeric actuator with metal plating that serves as an electrode.

The capacitor and methods of making it are covered by U.S. Patent No. 7,169,822 (’822 patent).  The ’822 patent is directed to a polymeric actuator (1) comprising an ion-exchange resin (2) in the form of a flat plate or film and metal electrodes (3a, 3b) attached to the surface of the resin by chemical plating techniques.

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Lead wires (4a, 4b) provide an electrical connection between the electrodes (3a, 3b) and a power source (5).  The metal electrodes (3a, 3b) are insulated from each other, and application of a potential difference between the electrodes causes the ion-exchange resin product to bend or deform.

According to Eamex’s web site and this Greentech Media article, the electrodes of the patented actuator have greatly increased surface area, and the energy density per unit volume reaches up to 600 Wh/L, which is equivalent to that of a lithium-ion secondary battery.

SPAWAR’s Licensable Green Patents

July 5th, 2009

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The U.S. Navy lab here in San Diego, also known as SPAWAR (an acronym for Space and Naval Warfare) has over 300 licensable technologies.  According to Claire Dobransky in SPAWAR’s technology transfer office, these include around 10 opportunities in the clean tech space. 

Ms. Dobransky told me that the clean technologies are high priority items for the lab, which is looking to spin off the innovations to the commercial sector.

One interesting SPAWAR patent is U.S. Patent No. 6,433,465, entitled “Energy-harvesting device using electrostrictive polymers” (’465 patent).  The ’465 patent is directed to an apparatus for harvesting electrical power from a person’s walking movements using the electrical response phenomenon of electrostrictive polymers.

The approach taken by the ’465 patent is to incorporate an energy-generating polymer (16) into the sole (14) of a shoe (12).  The polymer (16) is hooked into circuitry (24), which is in turn connected to an electrical cord so the generated electricity can be used or stored by the person wearing the shoe.

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Other patents identified as clean technology offerings by SPAWAR include:

U.S. Patent No. 6,147,754, entitled “Laser induced breakdown spectroscopy soil contamination probe”;

U.S. Patent No. 6,406,777, entitled “Metal and glass structure for use in surface enhanced raman spectroscropy and method of fabricating the same”;

U.S. Patents Nos. 7,424,375 and 6,993,437, entitled “Tidal seepage meter”;

U.S. Patents Nos. 7,437,959 and 7,444,891, entitled “In-water hull cleaning sampling device”, and “In-water hull cleaning sampling method”, respectively;

U.S. Patent No. 7,153,749, entitled “Method of tuning threshold voltages of interdiffusible structures”; and

U.S. Patent No. 5,925,370, entitled “Bio-repellent matrix coating”.

For many of its offerings, SPAWAR provides a handy informational “tip sheet,” such as this one for the hull cleaning technology (spawar_in-water-hull-cleaning-tip.ppt). 

A complete list of the SPAWAR technologies available for license can be found at its Available Technologies page.